3rd Grade Students Learn About the Chemistry of Polymers

ACES team: Cameron, Kyle, Seth, Christian, Kyle, Mike, Brandon, Madison and Ashley
ACES team: Cameron, Kyle, Seth, Christian, Kyle, Mike, Brandon, Madison and Ashley

In Fall 2014, Tanque Verde High School ChemClub members had an opportunity to work with 3rd grade students in our school district presenting activities about polymers provided by the American Chemical Society. We were assigned to a specific 3rd grade teacher at two elementary schools in Tucson, Ariz. (Aqua Caliente Elementary School and Tanque Verde Elementary School). For some of our veteran ChemClub members it was a second chance to work with elementary school kids.

It took us two weeks to build kits for the students to use during the outreach, as well as to practice our presentation. Most of the ideas were from the “Jiggle Gels” guide, but we included an activity to illustrate cross-linking and expanded the demo to show the making of artificial snow.

TVHS_9Everyone was expecting us at the elementary schools. Kids were very excited seeing us with the boxes full of materials and could not wait for us to start. In all of the excitement, lots of water got spilled on the tables. Luckily we were prepared and brought additional supplies with us!

Sodium Polyacrylate Polymer

Kids were completely stunned by the first demonstration where the water poured into a series of cups seemed to disappear when the cups were inverted. The students were even more interested in this demo when we showed them how properties of sodium polyacrylate polymer made this possible. It was a very good opening to the outreach presentation because this demo caught the students’ attention and made them want to experiment with that substance.

They really liked working with pipets and studying the properties of the sodium polyacrylate polymer.

Artificial Snow

TVHS_12For our next demo, we made artificial snow. That was a big hit! Everyone was fascinated with it, many saying things like “Wow! It even feels cold and wet like snow” and one student even tried to make off with a handful of the snow before we caught him.


Distributing the Gro-Dinosaurs for a graphing activity was a good break for the kids because they could remove their goggles for a while. But no one complained when we told them to put the goggles back on. They were so excited to make slime!

Super Slime

For the Super Slime activity most of students handled the pipet and borax solutions very well and had no trouble deciding quickly who would stir and who would add the solution. They loved the slime they had created and we could barely get some of them to divide it and store it in plastic bags so they could take it home later.

Cross-Linking Activity

To help 3rd graders to understand how slime is made, we had a cross-linking activity. We had volunteers to wear green tags with “X-link” written on them. All other students made chains by holding hands, and the kids with the cross-link tags were grabbing to the chains.


Water, Pencils and a Plastic Bag

During the final demo we compared two plastic bags made of different polymers. Kids couldn’t believe that the PVA plastic was dissolving in water. Then we put water into a regular plastic bag to show them that it had different properties. We did this by poking sharp pencils into the bag, but this plastic is so elastic the holes made by the pencils didn’t leak. I had to refrain from laughing when almost every single kid flinched as the presenter stabbed the first pencil through the water filled bag. To be completely honest, I was actually silently praying that the bag wouldn’t rip and spill all over the floor. By the looks of him, the student presenting this was thinking the same thing.


Our students reacted enthusiastically to every part of our presentation, and their comments were the best part of the day. We kept the students engaged with jokes and hands-on demonstrations, both of which they loved. One student cheered “You guys are the most awesome people! You do all the cool stuff!” and another proclaimed “I love chemistry!” I am particularly fond of the second comment, because the girl and many of her peers were taking a genuine interest in chemistry. When we asked “Do you guys want to know how slime works?” the class shouted their approval. The participation was amazing. Whenever we asked a question, nearly everyone raised his or her hand with a grin and enthusiastic expressions. Even as their eagerness peaked, they remained respectful and followed our directions. We kept things interesting, and they did not dare turn away from us because they truly wanted to do more, and know more about what they were doing. Even beyond that, they wanted us to come back because they wanted to know even more about chemistry and what we could do with it.

TVHS_6My favorite part of this activity was working with the students and being able to see their reactions. One student even asked me an in-depth question about the workings of chemistry, which was very exciting to see in someone so young. I loved being able to see how enthusiastic these young students were about learning about chemistry.

During the cleanup, one of the boys walked up to me and asked “Are you going to be here every day?” I was caught off guard and had to ask “Do you mean for the rest of the year?” He nodded eagerly and I, myself, was disappointed to tell him we weren’t. After he sat at his desk a girl came up to me and said “I hope you come back next year! This is really fun.” I couldn’t help but grin and assured her that we’d be back.

I have discovered that third-graders can be surprising in what they do and do not know, so presenters should be prepared for both insights and unexpected questions. I’ve had a great time and could see the enjoyment in the kids. I hope that one day, they follow with the foundations we laid for them and join the ChemClub themselves!

TVES team: Madisyn, Casey, Christa, Steven, Alexa, Eddie, Sean, Tim and Alec
TVES team: Madisyn, Casey, Christa, Steven, Alexa, Eddie, Sean, Tim and Alec

STEM Turns into STEAM


Want to submit an application for a ChemClub Community Activity Grant before June 1, but don’t have a project idea? Or, is your Club simply looking for something new to try? Why not turn STEM into STEAM? Fusion Science Theater (FST) takes Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education to a new creative level by adding the Arts. The Fusion Science Theater website describes FST as a STEAM outreach program that uses the secrets of theater to create outreach shows that actively engage children in learning science. They’re short, interactive shows that weave demonstrations together with predictions, modeling, and a storyline, targeted for an audience of grades 1 through 5.

How can you bring this program to your area? Apply for a Community Activity Grant to purchase a FST show performance kit! The kit will give your Club everything they need to perform the show in your community. The kits include a show script, video of a live performance of the show, list of materials and props you’ll need, a handbook for training and performance tips, and even instructions on how to assess learning achieved during the show.

Choose from:

  • If I Were an Atom to explore kinetic molecular theory and how atoms move in the solid phase. Watch a video preview.
  • Bouncemania! with a “Wrestlemania”-style match between happy & sad toy balls to learn about polymers and molecular structure. Who will be crowned “The World’s Bounciest Ball”? Watch a video preview.
  • Will It Light? to test and model the flow of electricity through different substances, as students investigate conductivity. Watch a video preview.

FST shows are more than just sharing your typical demos. They are inquiry-based. Show characters lead students to investigate a question that motivates the audience to learn a basic chemical concept. The shows are highly interactive. Audience members get to assist on stage, vote for their prediction of what will happen in a demonstration, and more. It’s easy to measure the impact and learning using assessment info included in the kit. The theater techniques and elements used are a great way to keep your audience’s attention.

For more information, download a PDF of the FST flier that was also included in a recent ACS ChemClub resource packet.

Get out there and generate some STEAM!

Science NetLinks

Are you looking for sources of activities to use with your ACS ChemClub?aaascommcore.jpg__225x1000_q85

Science NetLinks is a premier K-12 science education resource produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. At Science NetLinks, you’ll find teaching tools, interactives, podcasts, and hands-on activities, and all of it is free!

All of the resources are Internet based, so the lessons and activities can be printed or used online. Many of the interactives, worksheets, and tools work great on an interactive white board or in a computer lab. All of the resources are designed to be delivered in a variety of formats and classroom settings.

aaasmoleculesapp.png__155x1000_q85Science NetLinks presents standards-based lesson plans that incorporate reviewed Internet resources, and can be selected according to specific learning goals and grade ranges. Each lesson is tied to at least one learning goal and uses research-based instructional strategies that support student learning. The lessons are written for the teacher, but include student-ready materials such as worksheets, or online worksheets that enable students to engage directly in Internet activities.

The content covers all of the sciences, as well as mathematics, health/medicine, social sciences and careers.aaasperiodictable.jpg__155x1000_q85

The career information includes a series from the ACS Spellbound – How Kids Become Scientists. This video series tells the stories of chemist’s early experiences that put them on the role of working in science.

There is also a special section from Science News that provides the latest news on what’s happening in the world of science.

Working with Polymers – TVHS ChemClub Outreach Activities


On October 21, Tanque Verde High School ChemClub  visited twoTVHS_9 elementary schools in our school district.  We presented a series of hands-on science activities, related to the chemistry of polymers, to the 3rd graders (approximately 175 students).  In order to visit both schools in one day, we divided into seven teams of 3-4 people.  It took us several days to get ready for the event. We practiced the experiments we were going to perform with the students over the past two weeks, rehearsing what we were going to say, and preparing our materials.

Laden with boxes of supplies, goggles for the students, and bottles of distilled water, we have arrived at the elementary schools early Monday morning.  Some club members were nervous and apprehensive about the presentations,  but once we  started, everything went well.  After a short set-up and distribution of materials we have launched into the activities.


TVHS_5Our activity was based on the ACS kit “Jiggle-jells”.   The opening demonstration (an attention grabber) was very well received and got the kids interested in what was to come next. We added a demonstration on making “instant snow” (here in Arizona snow is special!) We also added a graphing component to the part where students made a small, dinosaur-shaped toy that expands in water. The elementary school students were thrilled by all of the activities and eager to do them.

The best part of the event was seeing kids’ faces while we were doing the labs. We saw kids  alternately awestruck or grossed out, or just dumbfounded by what they were observing.  Such as when they made slime and were able to play with it.   Our ChemClub students found it rewarding to teach the kids and see them responding to the instruction.   Knowing that some of the skills these students learned during our session will stay with them in the future was very satisfying.  It was great to see that we were role models in the students eyes, and that they looked up to us.

And of course, the kids made a number of memorable comments, all delivered with a huge grin:

  • “You guys are letting us do a bunch of fun experiments today!”
  • “I want to be a scientist now!”
  • “I thought science was supposed to be boring. This is fun!”

What has impressed us? Many kids had amazingly insightful ideas on TVHS_1how these polymers worked. One of the girls gave a detailed description of the dinosaur experiment,  showing off her knowledge of the topic.  It was also great to see  the 3rd grade teachers were just as interested in the experiments as their students, and asked additional questions about the polymers and how the experiments were prepared.

Our club learned how to plan an effective presentation and how to work with small kids. We found it was  hard to make sure  the students understood the instructions.   We found it takes a lot of patience to work with younger students.  Although some things could have been explained better, perhaps using different examples, over all, we felt we did a good job.  We hope that other high schools get a chance to participate in the event like this one, and we would love to do it again!  It was incredibly rewarding experience for all of us.  It is one thing to learn, but another thing to teach!

University School of Jackson’s 2 Big Activities This Year!

We were brainstorming about how to get the students interested in REALLY supporting the Coins for Cleaner Water effort.  We did a PowerPoint presentation at a school assembly and showed the time-lapse video of the water being cleaned.  Our ChemClub collects dues of $5 each year, and we decided to use that money to provide a chocolate fountain with all the trimmings to the winning teacher to have in her room for the day.   The contest was run in all the science classes, as all students have to take four years of science in high school.  The students were so excited!  We had the fountain in the winning teacher’s classroom―unfortunately it wasn’t mine―on the day the students returned from spring break.  It made the day more fun!!

Another project we did this year was to make science kits for teachers at a local elementary school that has a high percentage of economically-disadvantaged students.  The ChemClub students divided into groups and came up with a cool science experiment.  They collected all the supplies and wrote up a procedure with questions (including answers/explanations) for the teacher to ask his/her students.  All their supplies and instructions had to fit into a gallon-size ziplock bag.  They made 28 bags to provide a science kit to every teacher at that school.  Each individual kit contains 12 science experiments – with all the necessary supplies except water and paper towels.